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COMMONWEALTH v. STEINBERG (04/16/59)

April 16, 1959

COMMONWEALTH
v.
STEINBERG, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 50, Oct. T., 1959, from judgment of Court of Quarter Sessions of Philadelphia County, April T., 1954, No. 731, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Samuel Steinberg. Judgment reversed and new trial ordered.

COUNSEL

Samuel Dash, with him Milton S. Leidner, and Dash and Levy, for appellant.

Domenick Vitullo, Assistant District Attorney, with him Juanita Kidd Stout, Assistant District Attorney, James N. Lafferty, First Assistant District Attorney, and Victor H. Blanc, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Rhodes, P.j., Hirt, Gunther, Wright, Woodside, Ervin, and Watkins, JJ.

Author: Hirt

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 382]

OPINION BY HIRT, J.

The defendant was charged with "blackmail or extortion" in violation of § 801 of the Act of June 24, 1939, P.L. 872, 18 PS § 4801. He was found guilty of the charge and was sentenced. It is conceded, as it

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 383]

    must be, that the evidence clearly convicted him of the offense. In this appeal the defendant contends that he is entitled to a new trial because of the admission of testimony, to his prejudice, of matters entirely collateral to the issue of his guilt.

Defendant was a detective in the Police Department of Philadelphia. On September 26, 1953 he called one Albert Ostroff, a building contractor, by telephone and informed him that he was about to swear out a warrant for his arrest for receiving stolen property. The factual basis of the charge was the purchase of a power saw by Ostroff from two boys for a small fraction of its worth, allegedly with knowledge that it had been stolen. On the following Monday, Steinberg, with the two boys, went to Ostroff's home and told him in effect, that he would have to file the charge, and if he did he "would have to go through with the whole thing." He however, on withdrawing Ostroff into an adjoining room, said to him that "It was possible he could cancel this all out, avoiding all this excitement and publicity..." But that he, Steinberg, had "Certain expenses involved" and that he would need $500. Ostroff through his counsel reported the matter at the Police Department Headquarters. On the following evening, by prearrangement, two Deputy Inspectors of the department went to Ostroff's home; there they marked $300 in bills. The defendant in response to a telephone call appeared somewhat later, and Ostroff then gave him the money which the defendant accepted on account, stating "We will have to get [the balance of $200] later." The two inspectors then emerged from hiding, and the defendant, at their request, took the $300 in marked bills from his pocket and surrendered the money to them. It was upon this direct, positive and uncontradicted evidence, that the defendant was convicted. He did deny however that

[ 189 Pa. Super. Page 384]

    he extorted the money, and stated that the $300 was given him by Ostroff as a bribe.

At the trial as a part of his defense Steinberg was allowed to testify that on a number of occasions during the period of his service on the police force, he had been "commended or cited for bravery" - this without question by the court or objection by the Commonwealth. Defendant testified: "... the Jewish Police Department members - they gave me an award. Louis Lefkoe, who was a jeweler, gave me an award. The Inquirer gave me an award. I was also given an award for supposedly the bravest man in the City of Philadelphia for 1938." The defendant also produced medals and newspaper articles, among them one from the Philadelphia Inquirer with a photograph of Steinberg, under the caption: "Policeman Hero receives 1938 Medal Today." In addition he was allowed to go into detail as to the "gun battle with three men" upon which the 1938 hero award was based. Against that testimony the prosecuting attorney, over defendant's objection, was allowed to develop on cross-examination that defendant, after a Police Board Inquiry, had ...


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